As a Christian I am sometimes torn if I should wish you a Happy Halloween. You might be a person who loves the Night of Fright filled with happy childhood memories. You might be a fundamentalist who thinks the holiday is nothing but Satan worship. Or you might be the unique religious who celebrates Halloween by passing out tracts with candy, though you will not dress up. So, when I come to your door in my costume this year, I am not really sure if I should ask you for a treat.
For me, I have great memories of Halloween, and when I delved deeper into my faith, I began having some tensions. My journey to the light seemed threatened by the night of dark revelry. So, my first step was to replace Halloween with Harvest. I love the spirit of the season and tried to link it in some way the Christian holiday of all Saints on the 1st of Nov. That is a good route, though I think there is a better way.
Though I have gotten over the need to dress up in gore– to me there is something wrong with the over attachment to our own need to express the grotesque pieces of this life– I do think that the numinous spirit world is important for every person and Christian to face. Psychologically, Halloween allows us (especially those of us who generally think the spirit world is a myth) to face the dark unknown that we all somehow feel is out there. More than that, we must face the fact that the Bible thinks there are a bunch of disembodied spirits out there and not all of them are in heaven.
So, in the tension between fusion with the grotesque and an overtaxed need to defend ourselves from the dangers of the great unknown, we should find a way to happily face our greatest fear: that I am not in control of this universe, which stretches far beyond my five senses. It is a great chance to practice abandonment to the Light while sharing it with those who feel that all lights for them have gone out.
It is a tough age for people who want to thrive. The currents of our global village toss us against the rocky shore of faith. Reason often triumphs over intuition. And, because of the growing advances in technology, we often feel fragmented. Peace and radiance suffer at the hand of progress. And it often seems that our destinies will rise or fall on our strength and abilities. Dogs eat dogs, after all. We have no time for radiance.
Wendell Berry writes so pointedly about the strange search for rest and faith and peace in his poem, “The Lilies:”
Hunting them, a man must sweat, bear the whine of a mosquito in his ear, grow thirsty, tired, despair perhaps of ever finding them, walk a long way. He must give himself over to patience, for they live beyond will. He must be led along the hill as by a prayer. If he finds them anywhere, he will find a few, paired on their stalks, at ease in the air as souls in bliss. I found them here at first without hunting, by grace, as all beauties are first found. I have hunted and not found them here. Found, unfound, they breathe their light into the mind, year after year.
The lily enjoys a rich place in art and Western literature. St. John of the Cross utilizes the lily to describe abandonment in the arms of Christ, for example. Lost in his embrace, we leave our “cares forgotten among the lilies.” The poet of the Song of Songs uses the image of the lily to describe the radiance of the beloved. C.S. Lewis uses the image of the lily to describe the serenity and uniqueness of coming close to God (watch for it at the end of the Dawn Treader).
Thus, to thrive among the lilies is no small task. It means staying true to the beauty that God has placed within us. It means abandoning ourselves to God in the best and worst of times, resisting the inclination to feel abandoned by God. It means loosing your cares as Jesus points us to the fields where, as As Quaker Thomas Kelly put it: “God plucks the world out of our hearts, loosening the chain of attachment. And He hurls the world into our hearts, where we and He together carry it in infinitely tender love.”
Back to “Sacred Earth”
Unlike the farm, wilderness reminds us life is bigger than our cultivated land. And if I were a betting man, I’d bet a hundred on the power of a wilderness experience to give you perspective. A mentor of mine spoke these profound words to me once: if life ever gets fuzzy and you find yourself loosing your way, simply go and stick your head in a rabbit’s hole.
I love the way Wendell Berry puts it:
“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Came across this video we took on one of our adventures in Kentucky. Go find this place if you can:
“To enrich the earth I have sown clover and grass to grow and die.
I have plowed in the the seeds of winter grains and of various legumes, their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal and the decay of the growth of past seasons and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark.
I am slowsly falling into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth, not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness and a delight to the air, and my days do not wholly pass.
It is the mind’s service, for when the will fails so do the hands and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves, entering the earth. And so what was heaviest and most mute is at last raised up to song.”
“There is a season”, pines the author of Ecclesiastes. Some parts of the world endure the rainy and dry seasons, but I live in a land where springs unfolds finally into winter. And there is sacredness in these rhythms.
On the one hand, we learn lessons from the rhythms of our earth. The leafless branches of the winter argue to us that all is dead. I know an African man who arrived in the U.S. for the first time. It was the calm of winter. He looked around himself and “wondered if these American’s killed all their trees.” Yet, as sure as the sun rises, it also moves towards its springtime blaze. The air warms, the snow melts, and the life that is more powerful than death will work its magic. There is a lesson in the seasons about our univere.
On the other hand, I believe the seasons deeply relate with our spirits. We must follow them if we want to thrive as humans. Why is it that we spend billions of dollars making the winter streets as if it were summer? Plows, salt, pressing through the haze. Winter days with with white wind were meant for gathering in and resting. The seasons place harsh limits on our weary souls. Fall days were meant for enjoying and reverlry. Why do we pound the days away on our computers and walk across the city paths with our heads buried in the next text. Lift up your heads; this fall will never arrive again.
We do not worship the seasons or the forces they create. But we open our hearts wide to their sacred rhythms. If we are lucky, we learn to dance and sing their songs. Do not take my word for it. Take Wendell’s:
“The foliage has dropped
below the window’s grave edge,
baring the sky, the distant
hills, the branches,
the year’s greenness
gone down from the high
light where it so fairly
The country opens to the sky,
the eye purified among hard facts:
the black grid of the window,
the wood of trees branching
outward and outward
to the nervousness of twigs
buds asleep in the air”
Tonight at Asbury Seminary, St. Francis will lead our community in heart-formation. We will contemplate with the thoughts of the one, who eight hundred years after his death, gets to have little concrete statues of himself in billions of gardens across the world. You will see why. This session will be held on the Wilmore campus in the Richard Allen Chapel, 6.30-8.00pm.
When you first read St. Francis three things immediate surface: 1. He is deeply Roman Catholic (so for us protestants, we have some translation work to do), 2. One-in-two words he writes is a quotation of scripture. We see Jesus eminating even from the few words St. Francis wrote, 3. His vision remians just as vital today as it did then. And for “Thriving Among the Lilies”, this means we are especially interested in his vision for Global Community Development. Here are some passages to get you started:
“And all of us lesser brothers, useless servants (Luke 17.10), humbly ask and beg all those who wish to serve the Lord God within the holy, catholic, and apostolic church, and all the following orders: priests, deacons, sub deacons, acolytes, exorcists, lectors, porters, and all clerics, all religious men and all religious women, all lay brothers and youths, the poor and needy, kings and princes, workers and farmers, servants and masters, all virgins and continent and married women, all lay people men and women, all children, adolescents, the young and old, the healthy and the sick, all the small and the great, all peoples, races, tribes, and tongues, all nations and peoples everywhere on earth who are and who will be—that all of us may persevere in the true faith and in penance, for otherwise no one will be saved.”
“No brother should preach contrary to the form and regulations of the holy Church nor unless he has been permitted by his minister. And the minister should take care not to grant [this permission] to anyone indiscriminately. All the brothers should preach by their deeds. And no minister or preacher should appropriate to himself the ministry of the brothers or the office of preaching, but he should set it aside without any protest whenever he is told.”
It is harvest time in the U.S.!
My facebook newsfeed lit up last night with notes about carving pumpkins and loving the cooling weather. And harvest at “Thriving Among the Lilies” means a week-long exploration into the importance of our earth for your health and radiance.
I heard a phenomenal musician make this point at his concert on Friday: The moon commands the ebb and flow of our powerful oceans, why do we (creatures made of 75% water) think a full moon will not effect us? I had never thought of that before. But, I do deeply believe that we live in an age where we have forgotten our earth-boundedness. And, I long for a Christianity and Christian theology that wakes us up to the sanctity of this place and its role in feeding our bodies, souls, and imaginations.
The changing of the seasons, our innate connection with our earth, and the natural place of death and resurrection: these all conjure up within us an ancient longing to be home here among the complex and simple beauty of our land. And if we loose touch with the soil beneath us, we risk loosing touch with the very soul within us.
So for this week-long journey, I have brought with me a mentor of sorts, Wendell Berry and some of his poems:
Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.
Under their loosening bright
gold, the sycamore limbs
Now the only flowers are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.
The calling of a crow sounds
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.